When I first started listening to country music in the 1990’s, one of my favorite songs was Don’t Take the Girl by Tim McGraw. I liked it because it talked about chivalry and a young man protecting his girlfriend during a robbery. But the third verse, starting at 2:43 in the video below, is the best part. In it, the couple are now married but the wife is dying due to complications during childbirth. The husband pleads to God to take him instead because of his love for her.
This isn’t some new kind of thought; I think in a case of true love, many a times has one person wanted to trade places with a loved one who is suffering or in pain. C.S. Lewis, in his account of his wife’s battle with cancer, wrote about this thought in A Grief Observed (44).
And then one babbles–‘If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her.’ But one can’t tell how serious that bid is, for nothing is staked on it. If it suddenly became a real possibility, then, for the first time, we should discover how seriously we had meant it. But is it ever allowed?
Because of sin, both original sin and our individual sin, this world is cursed and sufferings have, and will continue to, come. Because of sin, we have an eternal punishment awaiting us. But the Good News is that Jesus paid the price for our sin in our stead. He is the only One to whom it was allowed to take the place of another so that we would not need to suffer eternally. As Lewis writes:
It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done. He replies to our babble, ‘You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.’
And yet, we still suffer not only physical trials but also emotional, psychological, or spiritual trials. Truly, although I wish I could take the suffering for my beloved wife, I cannot and I must not because there is a purpose for God allowing these things to happen in our lives. Lewis writes regarding trials in our lives (52):
But of course one must take ‘sent to try us’ the right way. God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.
And so, when faced with a loved one’s suffering and pain, we must ever remember that God has allowed this, not because God is a cosmic sadist, but because He loves us more than we could love Him or another person. The suffering and pain will come, but it can be used to build us up. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (3b-5 NKJV)